We shouldn’t need so many women accusing Bill Cosby to believe the allegations against him.
In a perfect world, I would be able to think that we don’t believe rape victims because we just can’t fathom rape as a thing that an otherwise normal-seeming person would ever do. I would be able to give apologists the benefit of the doubt that the truth of what rape is, what a rapist does, is so horrifying that they have to believe rape doesn’t exist.
But we do not live in that world. In this one, we simply don’t want to believe women – or, really, we don’t want to have to believe women, because doing so might, ever so slightly, complicate our own lives and our own preferred narratives.
It would be mighty inconvenient to have to see the world as it is.
Rape is an appalling crime. It’s difficult to wrap my mind around it, really – that a person can feel so entitled to the body of another that the person forces himself inside another person. Rapists take something so intimate – access to your insides – something to which they have no right.
There is so little justice to be found when it comes to sexual violence, be it in the courts or the court of public opinion. Instead, we have an excess of testimony from all manner of victims and a passionate chorus of disbelievers all too eager to tear apart their stories.
Perhaps it is so difficult to believe rape victims because it means facing the fact that at least one of every five women we meet in the United States alone – and maybe more, because many women never report – has been a victim in that way.
Perhaps, we cannot conceive of so many people enduring such a terrible violation and our so-called justice system doing almost nothing about it – and that’s why we demand evidence and testimony and unimpeachable victims … and still, that is not enough.
Perhaps, it is easier to believe that all those people are lying– that they have some ulterior motive, some nefarious agenda – than it is to believe how many other humans must be capable of such atrocity. Perhaps, we contort ourselves into finding any explanation other than the most obvious one because the visceral truth of rape – what people we know either perpetrated or endured – is unbearable.
Perhaps, I want to believe that the people around me are such great believers in our shared humanity – so tender of heart and soul – that they just cannot fathom that anyone but the greatest of villains could bring themselves to do such a thing to another person. But I am finding it more and more difficult to give people that benefit of the doubt.
The accusations of rape that have quietly followed Bill Cosby for so long are apparently finally catching up with him. So many women have come forward with their stories that we can no longer look away, even if we want to. But we shouldn’t look away.
We shouldn’t need so many women to tell such similar stories to believe. We shouldn’t be filled with so much doubt. One accuser should be more than enough.
NBC shelved the show Cosby was developing for the network. Netflix has postponed airing a recently filmed comedy special. TV Land is no longer airing reruns of The Cosby Show.
In the court of public opinion, that might feel like justice, but such consequences feel more like gestures. Perhaps, such gestures of belief are all his accusers will ever have. But being believed shouldn’t have to be enough.
We should have never ignored the accusations against Bill Cosby (which his lawyer says Cosby “does not intend to dignify”), but it’s difficult to believe something so sinister about a public figure as beloved as Bill Cosby. He gave us Fat Albert, The Cosby Show and A Different World.
We ask ourselves, how could a talented comedian – a family man, a philanthropist – also be a serial rapist?
Cosby and other men accused of rape rely on us asking those questions. But those questions are a privilege not accorded rape victims, who have to go to extraordinary lengths to be heard, let alone believed – whether or not the men they are accusing are world-famous and wealthy.
Rolling Stone published a harrowing story about Jackie, a young woman at the University of Virginia who offers her account of being brutally gang raped during a party.
The last assailant she describes in her story of the hours-long assault was a classmate she recognised, and he hesitated, so one of the other assailants said, “Grab its **** leg.”
That haunts me. It makes me ill. “It”.
I am haunted – plagued, really – by memories of when I was “it”, so much nothing, a skin-bag of girl bones on a dirty floor being tormented by terrible boys. I was “it”while they laughed and drank and took and broke me. I was “it” when they told anyone who would listen the story of what they had done and people began to look right through me.
Too many of us have been “it”. Too many more of us will become “it”. Too many of us will continue to look anywhere, but at the ugly truth.
But that’s how rape, and rape apology, works: she wasn’t a human, that wasn’t her leg, her experience wasn’t “the truth”. In her story, after Jackie’s assailants left her visibly beaten and bloodied – and worse – her so-called friends finished the assault on her, in a sense: they openly agreed not to take her to the hospital, so as not to jeopardise their standing on campus.
It was inconvenient, that situation; the truth of her was uncomfortable, their bloodied, bruised and near-broken friend.
This is the ugly truth. Rapists make us less uncomfortable than rape victims. Predators demand so much less than victims; they aren’t as inconvenient. They don’t bleed or hurt or reveal their gaping wounds. If we don’t doubt them, we do not have to doubt ourselves.
That’s why the charm of Cliff Huxtable – a fictional character – is more important than the words of so many women. That’s why a university’s patina of prestige and gentility is more important than the words of any number of young women who have been raped on that campus.
May we be haunted by that word and the woman who was forced to bear it until she, and every rape victim, is seen, heard and believed. – Guardian News & Media